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The Most Visually Talented Directors

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Nov 08, 2011 | 12:29pm EST

While we make no guarantee on the overall quality of this week’s Immortals, but one thing—thanks to its aesthetics-crazy director, Tarsem Singh (The Cell)—is clear: The film will be beautiful.

This fact got us thinking about the directors who’ve shown time and again that they can take our breath away in the way their films are shot (with the help of their cinematographers, of course); who have a vision and convey it to us, to spectacular, singular, instantly recognizable results. Here are the visual-obsessed directors who pull it off the best.

Terrence Malick

The Must-See: The New World

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The notoriously deliberate Malick has only directed five films (I repeat: five films!) in his almost 40-year career—all of them visually breathtaking and hyperbole-worthy. The most recent example was summer 2011’s The Tree of Life, which featured nature shots as jaw-dropping as the oftentimes too-obtuse storyline. But the non-prolific Malick’s work prior also displayed his visual visions and penchant for natural beauty, never more so than in 2005’s The New World, a so-so movie made unforgettable by its stark beauty.

Michel Gondry

The Must-See: The Science of Sleep

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Gondry doesn’t have a ton of big-screen work to cite, but every movie he’s made has looked pretty – and anyone who used to direct music videos for Bjork and others has cred aplenty in this department. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is the consensus masterpiece of Gondry’s limited resume, but the best-looking film is undoubtedly 2006’s mind-trip fantasy The Science of Sleep, which teems with beautiful shots of Paris and the mind’s eye … during the REM cycle.

Stanley Kubrick

The Must-See: 2001: A Space Odyssey

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He’s considered by many to be one of the best overall directors of all time, and for good reason, but what is probably most memorable about Kubrick’s film is his eye for visuals; it’s what makes a Kubrick film instantly recognizable. And Kubrickian. All of his many masterworks stand out for the way they’re shot – most notably the horrifyingly colorful A Clockwork Orange; the flat-out horrifying The Shining; and even his last film, the divisive Eyes Wide Shut – but none holds a candle, visually, to 2001: A Space Odyssey, as much a mind-f**k for its dizzying, stylized camerawork as for its themes and sci-fin-ess.

James Cameron

The Must-See: Avatar

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It’s easy to dislike the Blockbuster King, especially on a list like this, but there’s no denying that he has advanced movie technology maybe more than any director ever. And although the look of his films is almost always aided by special effects – ones that, again, he has usually pioneered himself – there’s also no denying that they tend to be quite the sight to behold. Avatar might be an annoying example, but can anyone honestly say he or she wasn’t blown away upon seeing the Cameron-created Pandora for the first time, be it in 3D or 2D?

Tim Burton

The Must-See: Beetlejuice

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Nothing exemplifies Burton’s artistic stylings better than one of his earliest feature films – his third, to be exact. Burton now relies on special effects and CGI to create his gothic, trippy landscapes and characters (and they still look amazing every time), but in 1988, when none of that was readily available – nor was a big budget – Burton’s true colors shone in a way they haven’t since. Beetlejuice was, visually, a dark, twisted, funhouse of weirdness that gave us an idea of what Burton was really about. His singular visual aesthetic can also be seen in films like Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Sofia Coppola

The Must-See: Lost in Translation

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Coppola has only directed four feature films, but they’re more visually striking than most others that have been released in her 11 years as a filmmaker. Lost in Translation, in which Coppola visually conveys the feeling of being lost, and the beauty of Tokyo, is the shining example. Not all agree on the greatness of her movies, but most are taken with Coppola’s ability to catch our eyes via beautiful, albeit somewhat cold and detached, imagery. See also: Somewhere.

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